Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: Pearl 2 under construction in downtown Fresno

(Photo courtesy of Marvin Armstrong, Architect.) Rendering of the Pearl II development
in downtown Fresno.

Residential construction in downtown Fresno keeps coming and coming.

Ten new housing units are being built behind the Pearl Building on Fulton Street in what the project designers are calling Pearl 2.

The 5,600-square-foot development from Pyramid Homes, an Assemi family company, is actually two three-floor buildings connected by a balcony on the second floor. Two of the units are studio apartments that are about 350 square feet. The remaining eight one-bedroom units are about 600 square feet.

The Marvin Armstrong, Architect team in Fresno is the designer. Armstrong is sticking to the contemporary design reflected in the other Assemi projects downtown like 64 Fulton, Fulton Village and Iron Bird Lofts.

The building will have stucco walls, tall windows that allow in natural light, and an enclosed courtyard for residents, Armstrong said.

This is Armstrong’s first new development project downtown. His company worked with Pyramid Homes on the adaptive reuse of the existing 64 Fulton building, on Fulton and Divisadero avenues. The 1953 office building was turned into 19 apartments.

“I think it’s a nice improvement for the downtown,” Armstrong said about the new projects. “With more units on the way, I think the area will continue to improve and become a livable space.”

Drivers traveling east on Fulton Street can already see the tower-shaped buildings take form behind the four-unit Pearl Building which was transformed by developer Reza Assemi in 1999 paving the way for a growth in downtown living.

There are now a little more than half a dozen residential developments downtown. Pearl II should be ready by spring time, Armstrong said.

Nearby, GV Urban – a division of Granville Homes – is building a 30-unit development called 1612 Fulton.

Political Notebook: State Center trustee Payne may be youngest elected Fresno Co. African American

Last week, Eric Payne was sworn in as one of two new trustees on the State Center Community College board — at age 28.

For one, Payne is young. He’s 28.

Twentysomethings aren’t often elected to office. One notable exception is Tulare Republican Devin Nunes, who was barely 29 when he was elected to Congress in 2002.

But Payne may actually be the youngest African American elected to office in Fresno County.

“I can’t think of anybody else,” said outgoing Fresno County Supervisor Susan Anderson, who served as county clerk for a decade starting in 1990.

Other long-time political watchers couldn’t recall any African American younger than Payne being elected. But nobody could say with absolute certainty that Payne was the youngest.

Payne, who replaced long-time trustee Willie Smith, who decided not to seek reelection, said he “ran because I live in southwest Fresno and I wanted to elevate the platform of post secondary education within my community.”

Anderson, who served as a mentor to Payne through the Rotary Club, predicts big things for him. He currently works as a consultant for a non-profit.

“For somebody under 30 to get elected is pretty amazing,” she said. “He walked a lot of precincts.”

Anderson thinks this is the start of what could be a promising political career, should Payne choose that route.

“I think he is a young man to watch,” she said.

Innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy expands again

The innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy has added another 280 acres to its growing swath of protected land — the old Tallman Ranch at the edge of Clovis where you’ll find deer, quail, ducks and the occasional wild hog.

The land is now called the Ted K. Martin Wildlife Preserve. Martin. 89, a lifelong resident of the Fresno-Clovis area, provided the $1.3 million to buy and maintain the property.

Earlier this year, Martin donated $2 million to the Fresno Regional Foundation to restore and preserve the San Joaquin River.

The new property becomes part of a 25,000-acre conservancy in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties. The organization is known for working with landowners to maintain natural foothill conditions.

Research has shown that grazing cattle help thin out the invasive grasses introduced by European settlers more than a century ago.

Well-managed grazing prevents sensitive vernal pools from being overrun by the invasive grasses. It has helped restore an elegant ecosystem on the distinctive flattop mountains in the foothills.

But this conservancy does much more than lease land for grazing. Two years ago, it launched its own beef herd called Sierra Lands Beef. A few hundred head help bring in more money for the conservancy.

The newest property in the conservancy was once a working cattle ranch with an interesting history, according to executive director Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis. She said the property, which is about 1,400 feet in elevation, was originally bought for $10 in the mid-1930s.

There are four ponds, fed from streams in the area, she said. There are two houses, one of which will be occupied by a caretaker.

“Access will be more restrictive than other parts of the conservancy,” she said. “This is an important wildlife area.”

80-year-old wins free car in drawing

Ursula Ybarra, 80, of Porterville is the lucky winner of a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic.

She bought a ticket from the Tulare County Deputy Sheriff’s Benevolent Association, which is raising money for the Sheriff’s Police Activities League. The winning ticket was drawn Saturday.

Ybarra gets the keys at 3 p.m. Wednesday at a special presentation at Giant Chevrolet/Cadillac in Visalia.

Jim and Jack Petty, who own the dealership, donated the car.

Real Estate: Fresno home prices fall while statewide prices increase

Fresno median home prices fell in November while prices continue to make gains statewide, according to a monthly housing report from the California Association of Realtors.

In Fresno, the median home price of an existing single-family home was $148,240 last month compared to $151,850 in October, the report said.

The median price statewide in November was $349,300 compared to $341,370 the previous month.

“Housing markets with higher-priced homes performed better in November compared with lower-priced areas,” said C.A.R. President Don Faught. “The negative impact of a lean housing supply on home sales is becoming more apparent, especially in markets with more distressed properties.”

Home prices made the highest year-to-year gains since June 2004 and it looks like that trend may continue into the new year.

“As we approach the new year, it is likely that sales and price will remain solid moving forward, dependent upon the strength of the economy,” said Leslie Appleton-Young, the association’s vice president and chief economist.

Are year-end bonuses for employees making a comeback?

Photo courtesy of

More companies are offering up year-end or holiday bonuses to their employees this year than a year ago, according to a survey by a national placement firm.

About 72% of the human-resources executives surveyed by Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that there will be some type of bonus for employees, from goodwill checks of $100 or less to all of a company’s workers to bonuses based on the company’s annual performance, performance-based bonuses only for select employees, or non-monetary gifts to every employee.

Last year, CG&C’s survey indicated that just over half of companies were planning to offer bonuses or gifts to their employees at year’s end.

The survey’s sample size is small — only about 100 responses to an email poll sent out by CG&C last month — so it’s hard to know just how representative it is about nationwide trends.

But, said CEO John A. Challenger, “it is clear, at least among our small sampling of employers, that they are duly recognizing the hard work and achievements of their workforce.”

About 23% of employers in the survey said they would offer a larger bonus this year than in 2011, and almost 70% said bonuses would be abotu the same as a year ago.

“Most employers understand that workers want to be recognized for their contribution to the company,” Challenger said. “It doesn’t have to be a Wall Street-sized bonus check. Many workers would be happy with a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant or store. Many would probably be happy with an extra day or two of paid vacation at the end of the year.”

And many, he added, “are simply happy to have a job in this economy.”

What about you? If you’re a business owner in the Valley — where the economy continues to lag behind other parts of the state and nation — are you planning on providing any sort of holiday or year-end bonus to your workers?

And if you’re an employee, are you itching for a bonus check, a gift card, a basket of fruit or goodies, a holiday party? Or are you, as Challenger suggests, “simply happy to have a job in this economy”?

Real Estate: Fresno foreclosure activity still falling

Foreclosure activity and inventory continues to fall in Fresno County and other markets nationwide contributing to what some experts are calling an “inventory crisis” of homes for sale, according to a report from ForeclosureRadar, which tracks foreclosures.

In November, 374 notices of default – the first step in the foreclosure process – were filed in Fresno County compared to 434 the month before. Notices of sales are slightly down as well to 422 compared to 473 in October.

Cancellations have been on the rise since October as more homeowners turn to short sales or received loan modifications that have allowed them to keep their homes,  the report said.

In Fresno County, 335 foreclosure sales were canceled compared to 315 in October and 181 in September.

Fewer foreclosures and more cancellations mean inventory is down. Fresno County’s foreclosure inventory fell by about 5% last month to 1,812 compared to 1,918 the month before. The number of foreclosed properties for sale is down to 1,341 compared to 1,548 in September.


Confusing air standards will save lives

The federal government last week announced a new standard for dangerous bits of soot, chemical and other debris — saying it will save hundreds of lives when the air is clear in 2020.

On Thursday, the local air district will consider a plan with a 2019 timeline to clean up this debris. So, we’re fine with the new standard, right? Not exactly.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is not talking about the new standard announced last week. It’s talking about a new standard announced a few years ago.

And, like most new standards, the Valley can’t possibly meet this one in time to avoid a problem with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you’re thinking this is confusing, you’re right. The Valley and the Los Angeles area’s South Coast Air Basin are still struggling to keep up with older standards, much less achieving new ones.

Every few years when medical research advances and regulators realize the old standards are not protecting people, we get a new drama in the Valley and South Coast.

That’s always going to be the case. South Coast has 16 million people and big challenges with the warm weather. The Valley is surrounded by mountains and has even bigger challenges with weather.

The confusion and drama are worth it only because the air quickly becomes a public health crisis at times in the Valley. The EPA was not exaggerating when it reported that lives would be saved with a particle pollution standard that cuts the soot and other debris by 20%.

Who are the people who die prematurely due to this pollution? Think about people you know who have heart, lung or other severe health problems. It could be your grandfather, your aunt or even you.

A 2008 study by California State University at Fullerton showed that 800 people die prematurely in the Valley each year. Most of those deaths are blamed on microscopic soot, chemicals and other particles.

Economist Jane V. Hall, one of the Cal State Fullerton authors of the study, placed a value of more than $5 billion on the lives of those who die from bad air quality. It’s not actual money. It’s a value set by federal government based on risk and human life..

The whole process of cleaning the air under federal law is confusing and just a bit of a mess. But the plan under consideration Thursday at the local air district will make quite a difference. The new standard, which may seem completely out of reach right now, will help even more.

Political Notebook: Arambula selected as new Maddy Institute chair

Juan Arambula, a former state Assembly member and Fresno County supervisor, has been elected as chair of the Kenneth L. Maddy Institute at Fresno State University. His term begins January 1.

Arambula — who will be the institute’s third chair — replaces former Sen. Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, a Stanislaus County Republican who has been chair since January 2011.

“I have always been committed to the Central Valley and I am a firm believer in giving back,” Arambula said in a statement. “As a result, I am honored by this opportunity to help lead the Maddy Institute as a regional asset and one of the most active and engaged public affairs institutes in the state.”

Don Jackson, who was instrumental in establishing the Maddy Institute, was its first chair, serving from 2000 until 2010.

Real Estate: State mortgage assistance program readies program as fiscal cliff looms

It’s that time of year – holiday parties and tons of cheer along with a race to fill out applications for mortgage assistance and foreclosure help programs that will end this year.

The sense of urgency is even stronger now with the looming fiscal cliff or automatic federal budget cuts scheduled to take affect Jan. 1 which could put a halt to grants, cut jobs and even threaten federal unemployment benefits.

The directors of the $2 billion federal funded Keep Your Home California program is urging unemployed homeowners, who are receiving unemployment benefits, but need help paying their monthly mortgage to apply for help this month.

Homeowners who apply, get approved and take the required homeowner workshops before the end of the year can still receive up to $3,000 of assistance a month for nine months to help pay their mortgage even if unemployment benefits are cut or run out, program directors say.

The program currently requires unemployed homeowners to be receiving federal benefits.

“Tens of thousands of California homeowners could lose their unemployment benefits in the next few weeks unless Congress and the President agree to further extend federal unemployment benefits, and that will certainly devastate many families,” said Claudia Cappio, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency which adminsters the Keep Your Home California program.

“We don’t want struggling homeowners to lose their unemployment benefits at the end of the year and then be faced with the very real possibility of losing their homes.”

The unemployment assistance program is Keep Your Home California’s most widely used program to help Fresno homeowners keep their homes out out of foreclosure. As of October, a total of $3.8 million has been given to 384 Fresno County families to help pay their monthly mortgages.

For more information about Keep Your Home California, visit or call (888) 954-KEEP (5337)